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Covering the Travel Sector During the Pandemic

Skift had to give up its New York City headquarters in July 2020 due to the stay-at-home restrictions and a dramatic hit to revenue.

I am updating this personal site at the start of August 2020. It feels like six years rather than six months since Skift promoted me to Senior Travel Technology Editor. Our company has had to cover a sector struck by a meteor.

We responded by holding a series of online summits with industry leaders, such as the CEO of Airbnb and the top travel boss at Google. I did my part by interviewing top industry leaders live for the summits on travel startups and investors, destinations and marketing, business travel, and online travel.

In June, Skift held its first virtual paid conference. I interviewed the CEO of travel unicorn GetYourGuide, the managing director of private equity darling Hotelbeds, and a top venture capitalist at Lakestar (one of the world’s top investors in travel startups).

We also created a live blog, which we updated furiously at first but have since retired.

Most of my daily reporting in 2020 has been related to the coronavirus pandemic’s ravaging of the travel industry. I covered Travelport’s inside fight to avoid bankruptcy with bold financial moves, earnings stories from Booking Holdings (the world’s largest online travel company), Tripadvisor, and Sabre (the largest travel tech company in North America).

Technology and innovation are my beats. I tried to make back-office payments tech sexy. Same with airport tech going contactless to avoid spreading contagion. I looked at how an uptick in fraud complicated airline refunds for canceled flights and how the “black swan event” of the pandemic had put to the test the software that hotel revenue managers use to forecast demand and set rates.

Startups have been core to my beat. I’ve looked at how an Israeli startup wants to help hotels level up their booking game during the pandemic and how the crisis could offer an opening to clever startups like Life House and the unicorn Sonder.

My reporting made waves. My analysis on startups was quoted in Tech in Asia and The Real Deal cited my report on Selina.

I took a global view whenever possible. One of my fave pieces I worked on (with a colleague) was “How One Upscale Australian Hotel Group Used the Crisis to Rethink Everything.” I also covered how India’s second-largest airline, SpiceJet, helped champion major tech reforms affecting passengers on all airlines in India.

I tried to put a human face on the crisis with profile pieces, such as of a Parisian hotel general manager and an Italian manager of Google StreetView.

2019: Images and Video
From Public Speaking

Here I am in London interviewing Lisa Farrar, the chief digital officer of Nordic Choice Hotels. Above, that’s me interviewing Lindsay Nelson, a C-suite star at Tripadvisor. Below, that’s me at the Skift Short-Term Rental Summit talking to Francis Davidson, the CEO of unicorn startup Sonder. It was one of four interviews I did on-stage that day in New York City, including ones with Kayak CEO Steve Hafner.

Kayak CEO Steve Hafner, left, with the CEO of Lyric in the middle, and me.
Here I am in Washington, D.C., co-presenting Skift’s Megatrends for 2020 presentation with my rockstar colleague Seth Borko. One of our commentaries was that we didn’t think the coronavirus pandemic would be worse that SARS. Stop me before I ever become a forecaster.
Here’s a dangerous crew, posing after our presentation at a tourism conference in Abu Dhabi in December 2019: The Skift team, from left, Kate Irwin, me, company president Carolyn Kremins, CEO Rafat Ali, and Wouter Geerts.

I worked for three years for Skift before the pandemic struck. Here are some highlights from 2019, followed by some pictures and videos from the time when we used to do live, in-person events.

Covered breaking news. Provided same-day dissection of the ouster of Expedia’s CEO. Was first in the travel trade press to cover Sabre daring the U.S. Department of Justice to sue it over its merger of a smaller rival. I later went to the federal courthouse in Delaware to listen to the trial and cover the trial. The merger fell apart. Showed a command of my beat by covering Sabre’s purchase of Radixx, with analysis, before any rival media got there. (Techmeme noticed.)

Took readers inside companies and their thinking. Used extensive interviews and reviewed financial filings for my story on The Inside Story of an Activist Investor’s Fight for Travelport (reposted here on Yahoo Finance), after covering the news that private equity was taking it private (see Techmeme mention). Covered a story other ignored and that contained layers of surprises: why the startup Utrip collapsed (I was first to report that Royal Caribbean had backed out of buying it).

Did deep dives. For example, I co-reported a 5,000-word Deep Dive on Smart Airports with my colleague Brian Sumers. This followed on deep dives I did by myself on other topics , such as 9,000 words on India’s travel tech future.

Got scoops. Used sources for a scoop on Sabre kicking Finnair out of its system. Broke the news of Ctrip closing Travis Katz’s Trip.com user-generated content project. Was the first to provide a full tally of Shiji’s acquisitions, based on financial filings.

Explored the big picture with telling examples. I addressed larger, abstract issues such as “Why do so many airlines suffer IT glitches?” — which followed on my one-time report about a study finding airport IT glitches once a month on average.

Wrote many stories with longer shelf-lives than the competition did. After beating rivals in covering online travel agency’s Amoma’s surprise collapse, I owned the follow-on stories about Spain-based Hotelbeds’ role in it and the broader industry impact (scooping even Spanish-language publications). Went long on colorful stories that the competition avoided altogether out of laziness, such as Datalex’s breathtaking implosion

Created ongoing franchises. Continued to build the Top Travel Startups franchise in its third year since I launched it. The Bold/Outrageous, year-end predictions franchise I pitched has rolled into a second year.

Did a weekly roundup of startup fund-raisings. Techmeme cited my startup coverage multiple times as the first/best, such as here and here.

Supported events on-stage. For the short-term rental summit, I did four on-stage interviews. At Skift Global Forum at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, I interviewed the CEO of Amtrak and former CEO of Delta Richard Anderson (see YouTube video, here) and the then-CEO of Vacasa, on-stage. At Skift Forum Europe in London, I interviewed top folks at TripAdvisor and Nordic Choice.

At Skift Tech Forum (an event I co-created), I interviewed top execs from Carnival, Oracle/G6, Amadeus, and Shiji.

I participated heavily in the programming and speaker suggestions for STF. I co-hosted Megatrends 2019 in DC, Texas, and NYC. For ATPCO, I solo-moderated a startup pitch and a panel talk in D.C.

Traveled to a half-dozen conferences. Examples include Arival (tours and activities), ARC (airline tech), and VRMA (rental tech). Coverage included: United’s Scott Kirby discussing his career plans, ARC’s CEO change, and Marriott’s test of offering vacation rentals to consumers.

The pandemic turned out to be firehose of traffic for Skift’s articles (and even my LinkedIn posts about our articles). But I miss live, in-person events, like the kind we used to produce.

Me, above, interviewing the top bosses at travel at Google on the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage.
What a team!

I’m joining Skift

I’m thrilled to say that I’m joining Skift as travel tech editor. You can email me here.

How I got here:

Since 2010, I’ve been full-time covering the travel technology sector. I’ve interviewing hundreds of top executives and entrepreneurs. My trade scoops have been name-checked/referenced by The New York Times (link), Bloomberg News (example), and other major outlets.

Between July 2015 and January 2017 I was editor-in-chief of Tnooz, a trade news brand that covers B2B travel technology. Some highlights:

—Broke news that moves public stock prices, such as a story about Orbitz being put up for sale and China’s state-owned GDS making its first western tech vendor acquisition (my story beat the announcement).
—Did enterprise reporting, such as my early 2016 report on Expedia Media Solutions, the advertising arm of the OTA giant, where I was the first to predict the strategy changes now taking place.
—Rapidly and creatively summarized and curated news, such as about the bizarre death of Unister’s CEO. Pieces were highly commented on, like my report on Homeaways’s changed fee structure that drew hundreds of responses.
—Interviewed hundreds of top players in the industry, from the CEO of Expedia to the new CMO of Booking.com.
—Was first to identify key industry trends, like the major OTAs getting into providing B2B hotel services.
—Led an editorial team that produces original reporting and analysis on the core technology products, vendors, and trends affecting travel distribution and marketing. Used analytics to inform strategy.
—Managed direct reports: two full-time, one part-time. Collectively publish 20 pieces of content a week.
—Represented our brand at events, such as moderating a November 2016 panel I put together to discuss a report on distribution written by the London School of Economics and sponsored by Amadeus.
—Assigned and edited PDF reports on sector topics, such as revenue strategy for hotels. Seven titles. Plus, sponsored content reports, such as Sabre’s on mobility in travel.

Since 2010, I’ve had to balance living for stints in the UK and South Jersey. In London my partner pursued a PhD while in my hometown I’ve had family commitments. London is amazing, and it’s also a fantastic base for visiting other places.

I’ve put in my 10,000 hours learning to balance the nuances right while still simplifying for a broad audience. Still don’t always hit the mark at doing it conversationally and as briefly as possible, but I try my damnedest.

I got into this business by a couple of sideways moves. I started by writing how-to, consumer advice articles for Kiplinger’s magazine. My interests led me to specialize in advice for travel planning at Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine.

My effort at understanding how consumers can become better at trip planning led me to ask more and more questions about how the industry really works. I got hooked, and in 2012 began focusing full-time on the inner workings of the travel tech trade, freelancing for BBC Travel and Tnooz.

A couple of personal notes:

My mother immigrated to the US from Ireland, and she taught me early on that there are more perspectives than just the American one. I’ve tried to take this lesson to heart by traveling to as many places as I can. One of the reasons I’m thrilled to join Skift is that it has a similar worldview.

I became interested in covering technology partly because my father is a gadget head and the latest cool technology has always been something we’ve bonded over. Vendor tech is different from consumer tech, but I’ve got the same passion for it.

What I did before 2015

In late July 2015, I became the editor-in-chief of Tnooz, the trade publication.

I’ve been covering travel technology companies for Tnooz since 2012 as a part-time reporter.

You can e-mail me, here.

Between April and July, I also blogged near daily for LonelyPlanet.com’s news operation.

A year ago I re-located from London, where I had been an expat for four years, to New Jersey, where I have family and live with my domestic partner.

My scoops have been namechecked by The New York Times, Bloomberg News, and BusinessWeek.

Consumer editorial/personal service journalism

Between March 2011 and February 2014, I was a contributor to BBC Travel, mainly writing about travel technology. My February 2014 peek inside hotel design labs is fairly representative. My story on new sites for reselling unused trips came well ahead of the New York Times discovering the same trend.

Other places I’ve written for repeatedly include Condé Nast Traveler (US edition) and The New York Times website.

Between 2007 and 2010, I was the senior editor of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. I founded its blog, with a travel news focus, which attracted up to 600,000 unique visitors a month. For the magazine, I wrote a handful of stories, such as about a road trip through Kentucky and “the half-dozen foreign car-rental fees to note“).

I’ve appeared on US national TV (NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, ABC) to discuss my stories more than 20 times, including on NBC Nightly News, twice. I’ve appeared a half-dozen times on Peter Greenberg’s national travel radio show and once on BBC World Service. I’ve done the occasional video, such as “How to rent a hybrid car“.

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Before that, I was an associate editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine (where I wrote stories like “The 25 Best Travel Sites.”)

In those roles I launched two print columns (“The Lowdown” and “Worth Every Penny”).

My first journalism job was as a fact-checker for Foreign Policy magazine.

Over the years, I’ve also freelanced one-off pieces for the print editions of New York Times, the Washington Post, and other publications.

I like social media. For a couple of years, I co-edited the official Twitter accounts for @BBC_Travel and @BudgetTravel, which has given me a better sense of why some headlines are widely shared.

If you made it this far, you may want to see a quick round-up of my “longread” journalism.